~e; mystery of Iraq's power outage

From human being <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Thu, 17 Apr 2003 15:23:15 -0500

[this has been a remarkable development in the use of electricity
in the US-Iraqi war. in the past, graphite bombs or other types of
weaponry could be used to disable the power grid, minimizing the
damage, yet in this instance .US rhetoric indicated that this would
not be pursued, that is, to save/protect the critical infrastructure to
speed up reconstruction. (thus, not blowing up powerplants, etc).
a question remains, if reports or rumors of the use of the HPM
bunker-bomb (e-bomb) had any unforeseen effects, or if tactics
may be defensive in that places may have localized generators,
while the populace does not, as part of a war plan. significant is
the part about electrical transmission lines being knocked down,
as it could be unintended or even a strategy of sabotage. the use
of electromagnetism in warfare, as weaponry is being redefined.]

  In the Dark Over Power Outage

   Mystery of Blackout's Cause Hinders Efforts to Restore Electricity


  By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
  Washington Post Foreign Service
  Thursday, April 17, 2003; Page A01

BAGHDAD, April 16 -- At 8 p.m. on April 3, as U.S. tanks rumbled into 
Baghdad's international airport to prepare for a final attack, the 
power went out across this sprawling city. Perhaps the Americans had 
bombed a power plant, people here figured, or President Saddam Hussein 
had ordered everything shut down. Either way, they assumed, once the 
government fell and U.S. forces asserted control here, the lights and 
the air conditioning would be on again.

  That never happened. Although it has been a week since U.S. troops 
swept into Baghdad, the power still is out -- and nobody can figure out 

  The Americans are convinced it was because of Iraqi sabotage. The 
Iraqis are certain it was because of U.S. bombs. Even the International 
Committee of the Red Cross, which has mounted a major humanitarian 
effort here, is not sure which side to believe.

  The failure to find a clear cause has hindered efforts by U.S. 
military engineers and Iraqi electrical workers to restart the systems 
that are  essential to lighting and cooling this city of 5 million 
people. "You can't just turn them on if you don't know what's wrong," 
said Marine Maj. Don Broton, a civil affairs officer coordinating the 
resumption of electricity service in the capital.

  The absence of power has had a greater impact on daily life than the 
looted government buildings, the traffic-congesting tank convoys or the 
pervasive military checkpoints. At night, residents have been forced to 
live by candlelight and listen to shortwave radios for entertainment 
while looters run free on darkened streets. Water-pumping plants and 
gas stations have been affected, as have many hospitals, which do not 
have adequate backup generators. Most shops and restaurants have stayed 

  Because electricity is crucial to fresh water, gasoline distribution 
and other basic public services, the continued disruption has become 
perhaps the chief gripe among many on Baghdad's streets, particularly 
as the weather heats up and air conditioning becomes a necessity. 
Regardless of the cause, people here blame U.S. forces for not moving 
faster to restore service.

  "The Americans promised to give us a good life," a portly, middle-aged 
man said inside a darkened restaurant that was serving only tea and 
bread. "Where is the electricity? What's the problem?"

  That is a question those involved in the issue still have not answered.

  During the first two weeks of the war, despite fierce airstrikes, the 
lights remained on in the capital to the amazement of many residents, 
who recalled that during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, power plants were 
among the first targets of U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles. In this 
war, U.S. military commanders said they planned to avoid hitting power 
plants and other infrastructure that supports the civilian population.

  But on the night of April 3, after particularly intense bombing on 
Baghdad's outskirts and as columns of U.S. tanks were nearing the 
airport, the power suddenly flickered off across the capital at what 
appeared to be the same moment.

  Broton insisted it was Hussein's government that decided to flip the 
switch. "It was a strategic move of the government of Saddam Hussein to 
turn off the power grid for tactical reasons," he said. Broton said 
power plants and substations likely were instructed to cease output.

  But the director of the Daura Power Plant in south Baghdad insisted he 
never received such an order. "Nobody told us to stop the power," the 
director, Janan Matti, said in an interview.

  Matti blamed the barrage of U.S. bombs, cruise missiles and artillery 
fire, which knocked down some large transmission lines around Baghdad. 
He also said the supply of natural gas to the plant, delivered by a 
pipeline from the northern city of Kirkuk, was disrupted, though he is 
not certain how. "It could have been bombed or it could have been cut 
because of some other reason," he said. "We don't know."

  U.S. military officials have insisted that coalition forces did not 
knowingly bomb any significant part of Iraq's electrical 
infrastructure. Matti said no other plant directors in Baghdad have 
reported taking a direct hit, but he said they reported that the 
bombing campaign had damaged the country's highly sensitive 
transmission grid.

  In the days leading up to the shutdown, he said the frequency of the 
electricity on the grid dropped to precipitously low levels because 
pylons had been toppled and wires had shorted out. "The grid had become 
very unbalanced," he said.

  Although he said he believes grid problems and the disruption of the 
natural gas pipeline were the culprit, he does not know for sure. "It 
is still something of a mystery," he said.

  Faek Baedhani, a professor of mechanical engineering at Baghdad 
University who is trying to organize electrical workers across the city 
and get them back to work, said he also is not sure why the power is 
out. "It could be sabotage or it could be bombing," he said. "Nobody 

  The Red Cross, too, is at a loss for an explanation. "We don't have an 
answer," said Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a spokesman here for the 
organization. "All we know is that it is not operating."

  Some observers here said the disruption appeared to have been 
coordinated because the entire city lost service at about the same 
time, instead of a rolling blackout more commonly associated with grid 
problems. But others have noted that the Iraqi government issued an 
announcement on state-run radio the next day urging people to turn on 
their private generators to light up the city -- something that would 
not have made sense if they wanted to darken the city.

The blackout sapped what had been fairly high public morale across the 
capital. In an instant, Baghdad's residents felt the war had become 
much closer and far more threatening. "Everything changed after that," 
said Saad Akram, a shopkeeper. "People started to get scared without 
any lights."

  Baghdad's municipal water supply relies on electric pumps. Although 
many pumping stations have generators, not all do -- and large sections 
of the city still lack running water.

  "It is of paramount importance to restart the electricity," 
Huguenin-Benjamin said. "It is the service from which everything else 

  U.S. Army and Marine civil affairs units have been  meeting with the 
directors of the power plants that supply the city and surveying 
substations and transmission lines to check for damage. Although that 
process is far from complete, Broton said he hopes some facilities can 
resume operation in the next few days. The system would have to restart 
slowly to avoid blowing out what is left of the grid, he said.

  Since telephone service has been disrupted, plant directors cannot 
communicate with one another to coordinate start-up procedures. To get 
around that obstacle, Broton said he commandeered four satellite phones 
and gave them to substation managers connected to the Baghdad South 
Power Plant, which he hopes to partially restart in the next few days.

   Several plants, substations and parts warehouses have been looted. 
Although managers reported that most of the items stolen were 
nonessential office products and not giant steam turbines, Marines and 
Army personnel have recently deployed around several key facilities.

  At the Daura plant, where four soaring chimneys normally spew out 
clouds of black smoke, scores of soldiers from the Army's 101st 
Airborne Division have established a tight security perimeter, 
unfurling concertina wire around the compound and searching every 

  Although Matti, the director, said he welcomes the presence of the 
soldiers, a colonel now occupies his looted office, forcing him to work 
outside. He now holds meetings on plastic chairs under the cover of a 
small grove of pine and eucalyptus trees.

  Even if the gas pipeline is not working, he said the Daura plant can 
restart limited operations using fuel oil. But starting the oil units 
requires five megawatts of outside power -- or five truck-size 
generators, which are not easy to come by in Iraq.

  If the oil unit becomes operational, it would meet only a fraction of 
Baghdad's overall power needs. "It would be a start," he said. 
"Everything helps."

  About 160 of the plant's 600 workers have reported back for duty -- 
more than enough to resume normal operations, Matti said. He told them 
that for now, they would have to be volunteers because the cash he had 
on hand to pay salaries was stolen and nobody has told him where he can 
get more money.

   2003 The Washington Post Company
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